Tag Archives: Albania

Tear gas at Kosovo rally demanding minister resign over war victims comment

FILE PHOTO (Reuters / Hazir Reka)

Police have deployed tear gas to disperse some 2,000 protesters, who rallied in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. The demonstration called for the dismissal of a Serb minister accused of insulting Albanian war victims.

Aleksandar Jablanovic, the minister for communities and returns of Kosovo, sparked anger earlier this month when he branded as “savages” a group of Albanians, who blocked a group of Serb pilgrims from entering an Orthodox Christian Church in the town of Djakovica.

On Tuesday, large crowd carrying Albanian flags took to the Pristina streets demanding dismissal of Jablanovic and the entire cabinet.

 

The rally was organized by several opposition parties, including the nationalist Vetevendosje (Self Determination) party, reported Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, a news service focusing on the Balkans.

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The crowds clashed with police when they tried to push them away from the government building near the central Skanderbeg Square. Officers used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the rally, the Balkan Insight news portal reports.

Dozens of people were reported injured in the scuffles. Live footage from the scene also showed a number of people were detained, with Kosovo’s mayor reportedly among them.

The rally on Tuesday follows a much larger protest on Saturday, which also escalated into violent clashes between the demonstrators and police.

The protesters demanded that Jablanovic be sacked within 48 hours, but the government rejected that demand.

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“The government of Kosovo urges political parties and their leaders to fulfill their goals and political ambitions through free and democratic elections, and not to use various pretexts to achieve political goals in an undemocratic way,” Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told a government meeting.

Jablanovic, who is one of three Serb minister in the Kosovar government, has since apologized for his remark.

The site of the Albanian-Serb confrontation, which served as the trigger of the conflict, was a scene of heavy fighting that resulted in many deaths during the Balkan wars. The minister said he was not aware of the tragic history of the site.

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Another grievance voiced by the protesters is the government’s decision to exclude the Trepca Combine, a mine contested by Belgrade and Pristina, from a draft law on public enterprises.

The law would lay a claim on 100 percent stake of the mine for Kosovo.

But the government made a last-ditch exception for the facility after Serbia warned against attempts to seize the asset and complained to the EU about Pristina’s intentions.

The protesters chanted “Trepca is ours!” at both the Saturday rally and the latest protest.

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The Republic of Kosovo, a partially recognized state, became independent in 2008. Among the countries which recognized the republic’s status were the US, Canada, Australia and some countries of the EU.

The majority of the 1.8-million population is Albanian – 92 percent – and only 4 percent Serb.

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Hoxha Grandson Arrested in Albanian Cocaine Bust

A grandson of Albania’s late communist dictator was among eight people arrested in connection with a major drugs busting operation whose investigation started in Germany.

In a major drugs busting operation near Elbasan, 40 km south of Tirana, police seized more than 19.5 kg of pure cocaine and 20 kg of of chemical elements used to mix the cocaine.

“Our investigation discovered a structured international criminal enterprise with activities from Latin America into the Balkans and Western Europe,” police said.

“This criminal enterprise recruited two Columbian citizens as experts in the elaboration of the narcotic substances,” police added.

The police also seized about 360,000 euros along with a cache of guns and ammunitions.

Initial information that lead to the seizure and arrests was provided by the German authorities, the Albanian police noted.

Eight suspects, including two Columbian citizens, were arrested. Local media noted that among them was Ermal Hoxha, 40, a grandson of Albania’s Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha who ruled Albania with an iron first for decades during Communis times.

His family issued a press release denying the allegations and suggesting a political motivation lay behind the arrest.

“The arrest of our son aims only to defame Enver Hoxha,” the press release signed by Ilir and Teuta Hoxha reads, the daily newspaper Panorama reported.

Albania is considered a major marijuana producer and also a transit route for other narcotic substances like heroin and cocaine.

Kosovo minister Enver Hoxhaj makes historic Serbia visit

Kosovo's foreign minister Enver Hoxhaj at the EU-Western Balkans conference in Belgrade. 23 Oct 2014

Enver Hoxhaj has become the first minister from Kosovo to officially visit Serbia since his country unilaterally seceded in 2008.

The Kosovan foreign minister hailed warmer ties between the two sides, and urged his hosts to agree to a peace treaty that would recognise Kosovo’s independence.

Kosovo has been recognised by more than 100 countries.

But Serbia, backed by Russia and other states, has refused to do so.

Kosovan Albanians waged a secessionist war against Serbia in the late 1990s, which responded with a military crackdown against the territory and its civilians.

A Nato bombing campaign against Belgrade effectively forced Serbia to cede the territory, which was administered by the United Nations until 2008.

Mr Hoxhaj was visiting Serbia to take part in a regional ministerial meeting in Belgrade.

But he used the occasion to call for a peace treaty, and told reporters: “Wherever I go I embody Kosovo’s sovereignty as an independent state.”

Drone row

The visit has been seen as a chance to lower tensions between Serbia and Kosovo – which has a ruling ethnic Albanian majority and an ethnic Serbian minority.

The Kosovo situation still sparks tension between Serbia and Albania, which backs Kosovo’s independence.

Last week, a football match between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a drone flew over the stadium in Belgrade carrying a flag emblazoned with a black eagle, the symbol of Greater Albania.

It prompted scuffles among players and fans on the Partizan Stadium pitch.

The two nations are due to find out their punishment for the violence later on Thursday following a disciplinary hearing by European football’s governing body Uefa.

Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama was due to visit Serbia on Wednesday, but the football controversy forced him to postpone until 10 November.

He will be the first Albanian prime minister to visit in more than 70 years.

Albanian Telecoms Deal Cost ‘$1m to Buy Off Politicians’, Claim US Businessmen

Controversial Bosnian businessman Damir Fazlic, a fixer with powerful friends in Washington DC and the Balkans, requested $1m ‘investment’ for Albania’s Democratic Party in order to secure a lucrative telecoms contract, allege his former US-based business partners. 

American businessmen who launched a joint business venture with British-Bosnian Damir Fazlic claim they handed him one million dollars to pass onto Albania’s Democratic Party in return, they say, for government approval of the deal.

As Albania prepared to open its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) market back in 2006, Fazlic and his US partners had already formed Meridian Telecommunications, and sat poised to take full advantage by being the very first firm to offer the service in partnership with state-owned provider Albanian Telecom.

Meridian, based in Indiana, USA, is jointly owned by Fazlic, who holds 50% of its shares, and Americans Tim Ginn and Tony Altavilla, according to records held by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US state body responsible for regulating telecoms firms operating abroad.

The firm was hoping to rake in at least $3m in profits during 2007 alone, company documents show, but there was just one sticking point: The US partners would have to make two ‘investment payments’ of $500k to the ruling Democratic Party before December 15, 2006 to net the deal.

Fazlic, a close associate of the then Albanian prime minister, Sali Berisha, told his US partners they needed to make the payments because ‘though the current PM is set for another three years, we really need the right local govt people to win. This helps that cause before the end of the year elections,” according to meeting minutes taken by Meridian in September 2006 and seen by BIRN.

“He [Fazlic] said that all we have to do is invest a million dollars for buying off the politicians over there because at the time, I guess, [local] elections were taking place. He claimed that we had to fund the coffers of the winning party so we could, in fact, have our [telecoms] box turned on over there. So, Tim and I provided that million dollars,” claims Altavilla.

Fazlic has strongly denied claims he passed money to the Democratic Party, which has refused to respond to BIRN’s questions.

$1m deposited in Fazlic’s personal accounts

Ginn and Altavilla claim they transferred one-million-dollar to Fazlic’s personal HSBC bank accounts in the US and British tax haven island of Jersey.

Ginn and Altavilla told BIRN during separate interviews that they took out a joint one-million-dollar loan and transferred the money to Fazlic’s personal HSBC bank accounts in the US and British tax haven island of Jersey.

Neither BIRN nor the US business partners have been able to confirm whether any money was then sent to the Democratic Party and while Fazlic acknowledged some ‘investments’ were made, he declined to give any details on how it was spent and strongly denies promising to funnel funds to the party in exchange for approval of the deal.

However, the deal between Meridian and Albanian Telecom was signed off in October 2006 by Lulzim Basha, then transport and communications minister in Berisha’s Democratic Party government who is now Mayor of Tirana and Democratic Party leader, according to an email from Fazlic seen by BIRN.

Basha declined a request for an interview and did not respond to written questions.

The contract granted Fazlic and his US partners access to Albanian Telecom’s internet infrastructure for their Albanian VoIP venture for six months.

The deal with Albanian Telecom started off well enough, with Meridian earning at least $150k within the first six months of 2007. All of which, say Ginn and Altavilla, was used to repay some of the bank loan.

However, technical problems disrupted the service as the telecoms box used to route their VoIP calls regularly shut down. Fazlic, the contact on the ground in Albania, initially worked to iron out difficulties but, the US partners claim, he suddenly stopped returning emails and calls.

In October 2007, Albanian Telecom was bought by two Turkish companies following a lengthy privatisation process.

Contract ‘forged’

As their fledging Albania venture began to unravel, Ginn and Altavilla also discovered that the signed contract held by Albanian Telecom listed different prices and charges to those in the contract presented to them by Fazlic.

Not only that, Steve Slavin, Meridian’s administrator, claimed his signature on the Albanian Telecom contract had been forged, his name misspelt and his title incorrectly described as ‘president’.

In emails seen by BIRN, Albanian Telecom argued that the box was turned off because Meridian had not paid its bills, disputed by the Americans on the basis of the contract they believed they had signed. Albanian Telecom told Meridian that they did not know who had provided them with the contract and that they held no record of an alternative document. Fazlic declined to comment.

The pair eventually brought in Obrad Kesic, an influential Washington DC lobbyist of Serbian origin, to track down Fazlic and revive the Albanian Telecom deal, without success.

Ginn says they eventually decided to cut their losses.

“Given the amount of money involved I would have expected him [Fazlic] to have seen it through… Tony and I just didn’t have the money to pursue it,” he told BIRN.

Fazlic first met the American businessmen in 2006 after his wife, Bosnian American Amra Fazlic, introduced them via a mutual business contact.

Impressed with Fazlic’s connections in Albania, the trio worked up plans to exploit the soon to be opened VoIP market.

“The opportunity was there because of Damir’s political connections in Albania. He was good friends with the premier [Berisha] and could get a telecom box over in Albania and we would be able to sell minutes,” Altavilla told BIRN.

Fazlic: ‘Democratic Party got nothing’

Fazlic claims that no money was transffered to Albanian Democratic Party.

When BIRN asked Fazlic about his dealings with Albanian Telecom via email, he initially denied ever doing business with them.

Equally coy about his involvement with Meridian, Fazlic eventually told BIRN during an interview in June he had “worked with” the company but attempted to cast doubt over whether he was a shareholder by refusing to directly answer questions about ownership, simply asking: “How was I a partner?”

However, records from the US state regulator FCC show Fazlic owned half of Meridian Telecommunications via Cyprus-based Cleone Limited. According to Cypriot documentation, Fazlic is listed as the director of Cleone while its sole shareholder is London-based firm Morewig Limited.

Morewig is a shell company set up in London by Cypriot tax and registration firm Ergoserve.  It is also listed as the sole shareholder of another Cyprus-based firm, Kelena Limited, in official records from the Mediterranean island. According to a legal letter filed at the Albanian business registry, Kelena’s ultimate owner is Fazlic.

When quizzed by BIRN on why he advised Ginn and Altavilla to pay $1 million, Fazlic denied ever intending to transfer funds to Berisha or the Democratic Party.

“They [Ginn and Altavilla] had to make investments and all of that – I’m just saying nothing was given to me to give to Berisha or the Democratic Party – that is the statement,” he said.

“I think you will find that this [the deal] is one of those things that didn’t work out.”

Fazlic also argues he didn’t make any money from the Meridian-Albanian Telecom deal because it collapsed, although emails exchanged between him and his US partners Ginn and Altavilla make it clear he certainly expected to.

In these emails, seen by BIRN, Fazlic asked for all profits to be routed to his bank account in the British Virgin Islands.

Fazlic: Political access ‘legitimate’

Fazlic became a close adviser to Berisha (in the photo) and other prominent members of the Democratic Party during their successful 2005 general election campaign. | Photo by European People’s Party/Flickr

The cache of emails and documentation obtained by BIRN during its investigation into the Meridian-Albanian Telecom deal sheds further light on how Fazlic used his access to Berisha and the political elite to broker deals and gain information from politicians.

In one email, Fazlic tells his US partners he has ‘had the Meridian deal signed off by the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications’.

In another, one Meridian employee summarises a telephone conversation with Fazlic during which the Bosnian talks of meeting the Albanian PM to discuss an energy deal that Meridian was preparing to bid for.

Fazlic was a close adviser to Berisha and other prominent members of the Democratic Party during their successful 2005 general election campaign, recruiting influential Washington DC lobbyists BGR to advise.

He insists he didn’t charge the party for his assistance, claiming to have helped out solely because he believed in their cause.

Following Berisha’s election victory, Fazlic quickly set about using his contacts to build up his business empire in Albania – one of Europe’s fastest growing economies. He set up three companies in Tirana – Crown Acquisitions, Virtu Acquisition and SRF Developments – installing Basha’s brother-in-law, Erion Isufi, as manager of each.

His controversial links to power came under intense scrutiny when Albanian prosecutors – alerted by the use of offshore banking and cash-only land purchases – launched a money laundering investigation in October 2008 into a series of land deals brokered on Fazlic’s behalf by Berisha’s daughter, lawyer Argita Malltezi.

The investigation was heavily and publicly criticised by Berisha and his supporters, with prosecutors eventually dropping the probe after failing to obtain crucial documentation in relation to Fazlic’s business operation from Cypriot and Bosnian officials.

Both Berisha and Fazlic repeatedly denied allegations the Bosnian had benefited from his political connections, but documents unearthed by BIRN in a separate investigation into the Bosnian’s controversial land deal suggest otherwise.

In an interview with BIRN, Fazlic, who has powerful friends in Washington and the Balkans, admitted he used his contacts to open doors but denied any impropriety.

“Do I daily use my contacts to open some doors? Yes. There’s access, then there’s corruption. Access is a legitimate tool in business and that’s what I want to make very clear,” he said.

Meanwhile, Altavilla has been rebuilding his life after he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 2012, still saddled with half of the $1m loan.

“I was very foolish,” he admits, having now ruled out ever seeing his investment again.

 

UEFA to Rule on Serbia-Albania Match Mayhem

The UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body will hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss disciplinary proceeding against the Serbian and Albanian football federations over the amatch on October 14, which was called off amid battles on the pitch.

European football’s governing body was expected to deliver a ruling after meeting on Thursday to consider the disastrous first-ever football match between the national teams of Serbia and Albania.

“Disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Football Association of Serbia, FSF, for the setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles, crowd disturbance, field invasion by supporters insufficient organisation and use of a laser pointer,” the European football body said in a statement last week.

“Proceedings have also been opened against the Football Association of Albania, FShF, for refusing to play and the display of an illicit banner,” it added.

The first football match ever held between Albania and Serbia – a qualifier for the 2016 cup – ended in chaos and violence in the 41st minute, after a small drone with a banner embossed with Albanian motifs flew over the pitch and Serbian fans erupted.

The banner flown by the drone portrayed a map of “Greater Albania” covered with an Albanian flag and the portraits of independent Albania’s two founding fathers, Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletini.

After Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic pulled down the banner a scuffle ensued between the two teams, as Albanian players grabbed the flag back from Mitrovic.

The scuffle turned into a worse brawl when a group of Serbian fans invaded the pitch and attacked Albanian players, prompting British referee Martin Atkinson to suspend the match. The score was 0:0 at the time.

Videos and pictures show Serbian fans attacking Albanian players with fists and kicks as the Serbian players try to protect them.

Serbian fans also threw torches and lighters at the Albanian players as they left the field. Several Albanian players were hit by hooligan who had invaded the pitch.

Earlier in the match, Serbian fans booed the Albanian national anthem and chanted bloodthirsty, racist slogans, such as “Kill, Slaughter, so that the Šiptar [a pejorative term for Albanians] do not exist.”

Albanians have chided UEFA for not investigating the FSF for racism before the game was abandoned.

An online petition calling on UEFA to investigate Serbia for racism has collected more than 138,000 signatures.

Nationalism gaining strength in Serbia, Albania

Albanian fans wait for Albania's national soccer players to arrive

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has postponed a visit to Serbia, amid political tensions between the two countries following violence at a football match. Nationalism on both sides is on the rise.

 

Aleksandar Sekulic’s workdays aren’t always this busy. The young human rights activist has been traveling across Serbia, visiting Albanian-owned shops and snack bars targeted by nationalistic attacks.

At least a dozen bakeries and snack bars in the north of the country have been vandalized or torched by Serb nationalists in the last few days, with a bomb even being used in one case. Even a mosque was targeted.

According to Sekulic, who works for the Belgrade-based NGO Youth Initiative for Human Rights, “it’s pure luck” that no one was killed. The Serb government and society in general have condemned the attacks. A few suspects have been arrested.

Pointing the finger

The Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania – abandoned last Tuesday in Belgrade – is to blame for the renewed tensions.

Chaos erupted when a remote-controlled drone carrying a banner glorifying Albanian territorial aspirations appeared above the pitch. Albanian nationalists envision a land comprising Kosovo, parts of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece.

The banner was a signal for Serb hooligans to storm the pitch and attack Albanian players. After the game, Vienna saw massive rioting between members of the two ethnic groups.

Red-hot nationalism has flared on both sides since the incident, with “enemy” flags being burned and calls for genocide spreading online. DW has also received user comments along those lines. As has happened so often in the past, both sides are pointing an accusing finger at the other party.

“The Albanian public ignores the fact that one shouldn’t defend nationalist Albanian symbols,” Sekulic told DW. “On the other side, in Serbia, they are using the banner attack to justify racist campaigns in stadiums and violence against Albanians.”

Politicians on both sides have fanned the flames in the media.

Serb President Tomislav Nikolic claimed that Albanians generally hate Serbs, and will do so for centuries to come, while Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama said the Serbs have once again proven themselves to be notorious nationalists and racists.

Postponed visit

Rama’s visit to Serbia, long-planned to take place this Wednesday, would have been the first by an Albanian leader to Belgrade in 68 years. It was has now been postponed, rescheduled for November 10.

Bilateral talks are regarded as an important opportunity to improve relations between the states. That hope seems to have been shattered for the time being.

In Brussels, politicians have been cautiously critical in their assessment of developments after the suspended soccer match. German MEP David McAllister, the European Parliament’s new rapporteur on Serbia, told DW that reconciliation must encompass all societies and peoples in the region.

“I hope we won’t be seeing such images again,” he said.

All about Kosovo

EU hopefuls Serbia and Albania don’t really have insurmountable cross-national problems. Hostilities have evolved over opposite interests concerning Kosovo.

Europe’s youngest state unilaterally declared itself independent from Serbia in 2008, and is meanwhile recognized by more than 100 countries worldwide, including 23 EU member states.

Belgrade doesn’t want to accept its former province’s sovereignty, but on the other hand it accepts what Serbian leaders like to call “reality.” This reality combined with pressure from Brussels has resulted in the signing of several accords between Belgrade and Pristina.

“Recent events show that the signed documents can be a good first step, but by no means do they represent the end of a process of normalization,” said Iliriana Kacaniku of the Kosovo Foundation for an Open Society.

Fifteen years have passed since the war that began with the Milosevic regime’s oppression of the Albanians and ended with the NATO bombing of Serbia, hundreds of civilian casualties and the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo.

There has been a great deal of talk ever since, Kacaniku told DW – but not much has been done.

“The region’s political leaders are incapable of looking ahead to the future,” she said. “You can’t develop a modern European state by sticking to the old way of thinking.”

Populism works

Today, former foes head their respective governments in Belgrade and Pristina. In the late 1990s, Serb Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic ranted and raved against the Albanians; as information minister, he was responsible for censorship.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci headed Kosovo’s UCK paramilitary liberation army, which is suspected of war crimes against Serbs.

While both leaders now present themselves as European advocates, they rarely pass on opportunities for populist slogans in public. Albania’s Rama isn’t much different.

According to Kacaniku, they resort to nationalist rhetoric “because the people continue to buy it.”

Serb human rights activist Sekulic believes that moving closer to the EU won’t be enough to solve the problem. “Brussels appears to be content as long as Serbs and Albanians don’t kill each other,” he said.

The new EU Commission has already announced the bloc will not take in new members in the next five years. That’s another reason not to wait for momentum from the outside, Sekulic warned.

Over the past couple decades, nationalism has been to blame for untold suffering, for hundreds of thousands of deaths and people exiled from their homes, he said.

“So it’s our duty to resist and fight it,” he said. But he added that it will be a lengthy process, and it won’t be easy.

Serbian Albanian détente postponed, not cancelled, after footballing farce

The last time an Albanian prime minister visited Belgrade, the Iron Curtain was just descending across Europe, rock and roll had yet to be invented and Pelé was just six years old.

In this context, the decision of current Albanian premier Edi Rama to delay his planned trip to Serbia by a mere two and a half weeks may not seem hugely significant. But Rama’s postponement comes after a spat triggered by an episode bizarre even by Balkan standards and in the wake of subsequent attacks on Albanian property in Serbia.

On October 14, Albania’s football team kicked off a European Championship qualifier against Serbia in Belgrade, a match with so much geopolitical and ethnic tension behind it that Albanian fans were not admitted to the stadium.

What was already a bad-tempered affair took a radical turn for the worse just before half-time, when a small drone appeared above the pitch dangling a flag showing Albanian national symbols and a silhouette of “Greater Albania” including parts of Albania’s neighbours, including Kosovo, a region still claimed by Belgrade.

 

A melée ensued in which opposing players grappled for the banner, while pitch invaders – and allegedly stewards – assaulted Albanian players, who ended up being chaperoned from the pitch.

The match was called off. In the days since, there have been claims and counter claims from both sides, with both prime ministers wading in on twitter. Rama’s brother was accused of flying the drone by the Serbian press, an allegation he strongly denied.

On October 19, Rama and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic announced that the former’s Belgrade visit, the first of its kind since 1946, would be pushed back to November 10. In a joint statement, they described the footballing incident as “very unfortunate”.

“There are still obvious disagreements about how the incident occurred, but we must not and we will not miss the opportunity to meet and work on maintaining regional stability,” the statement read.

Bulgaria: First Albanian PM Visit to Serbia in 70 Years Postponed

The incident has been seen as a gross provocation in Serbia, where Albanian businesses and a mosque have since been attacked by arsonists and, in one case, a grenade thrown.

Many Albanians, on the other hand, have seen the match’s descent into on-pitch violence as indicative of Serbian thuggery, a view that has gained some traction in the international media. The actions of some Serbs outside and inside the stadium have done the country’s recovering reputation little good.

Tensions between the two countries have a long history, most recently in the Kosovo War of 1998-99, in which Serbs fought ethnic Albanians for control of the territory.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia has moved to normalise relations recently, while maintaining that it will not recognise the state.

Albanian officials have criticised the Serbian government’s response to the incident, while maintaining that they wish to see relations improve.

“Sport, politics and hooliganism are completely separate things and we will not fall into the trap of mixing them, because doing so would not benefit either our bilateral relations, nor the future friendship between our two peoples, or our common European perspective,”

Albanian foreign minister Ditmir Bushati told the press on October 15. However, he added: “We believe that there should be a common understanding and perspective regarding some standards of the civilized world, which we hope that Serbia also wants to join,” a statement that is unlikely to play well in Serbia.

That Rama’s visit has merely been delayed rather than cancelled altogether is a sign that both countries are serious about improving relations. Intra-regional cooperation has quietly been increasing over the past few years.

Common membership of CEFTA, a regional free-trade association, has boosted trade. Economic logic has trumped historical resentments in many cases, though trade has tended to be strongest along ethnic lines – for example between Albania and Kosovo, and between Serbia and the Serbian-dominated region of Bosnia.

The past week has “graphically shown the depth of animosity that still exists between many people in both Serbia and Albania”, says James Ker-Lindsay, a senior research fellow focusing on the politics and international relations of south east Europe at the London School of Economics

“The match will certainly have an effect,” Ker-Lindsay told beyondbrics. “The questions is whether it will be for better or for worse. The question is whether the politicians fall into line behind popular opinion and play to the gallery, or whether they recognise the problem of nationalism that remains and decide to try to improve the situation.”

During and since the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, Serbs have widely been seen as the leading protagonists of nationalist aggression in the Balkans. But other groups also have their demons, even if plans such as those for a “Greater Albania” are largely imaginary concepts, as Rama has said.

Perhaps his visit to Belgrade next month can continue the quiet bridge-building that has been taking place in the Balkans despite rabid nationalism from sections of each country’s press and occasional (and limited) violent convulsions.